Austin may join boycott of border wall contractors, as feds cry foul


City resolution calls the Trump administration’s border wall expansion a “symbol of fear and division.”

Contractors trade group says boycotts such as the one Austin is considering violate constitutional law.

As the Austin City Council considers joining dozens of other cities in refusing to do business with companies involved with border wall construction, the Homeland Security Department’s second-in-command blasted the idea Wednesday, implying it is undemocratic.

Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke said “we shouldn’t be tolerating” cities that “blackball” companies for their border wall connections.

“This is a democracy and a free country,” Duke said while speaking at the annual Border Security Expo in San Antonio.

On Thursday, the Austin City Council will take up a resolution to not hire any company that’s involved with the design, construction or maintenance of the controversial border barrier.

The resolution calls the Trump administration’s planned border wall expansion a “damaging symbol of fear and division” that will increase tensions with Mexico and tear apart families. The resolution has support from Mayor Steve Adler and its sponsors, Council Members Delia Garza, Greg Casar, Sabino “Pio” Renteria and Ann Kitchen.

SPECIAL REPORT: Life in the shadow of the wall 

An email from Garza’s office that announced a Thursday morning press conference on the matter states “like any city, Austin has the right, within all relevant laws, to direct its business to companies that are good community partners.”

Garza, who authored the resolution, said the city is free to take a stand on this matter.

“It’s great to hear that Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke recognizes that we live in a free country, but I’m confused how that aligns with a city’s ability to choose where we direct city resources. As leaders, we have a responsibility to direct our resources in a way that aligns with our community values of respect, tolerance, and inclusion. What’s more American than that?” Garza said.

Adler said in a statement, “The border wall is not about keeping us safe. It’s a political symbol of division designed to make us scared of each other, and that kind of divisive symbol requires a response. Here it is: In Austin we build bridges, not walls.”

Dozens of cities in border states, including Tucson, Ariz., and San Diego, Calif., have adopted similar measures.

The Associated General Contractors of America trade group says boycotts such as the one Austin is considering are violations of constitutional provisions that say federal laws supersede those enacted by states and local governments.

“It’s an incredibly bad and discriminatory way to express your city’s views on a public policy issue,” said association spokesman Brian Turmail, who called the boycotts political grandstanding that would only punish construction workers. In August, the contractors group asked the Justice Department to take legal action against the cities.

Turmail said federal officials are still considering that request.

Correction: An earlier version of this story attributed a quote to Mayor Adler’s spokesman. The quote should be attributed to Adler.

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